Asl more questions

Asking the right questions key to getting information you need

  • January 25, 2017
  • Kim Covert

Asking questions isn’t as simple as who, what, where, when and why – and sometimes how.

When you’re doing initial interviews with clients, it’s important to know what questions to ask – and to recognize that few clients will answer those questions fully.

“Through experience you learn that clients will not tell you the entire story unless you draw it out of them, because they’re not lawyers and they have their own perspective on the case and on the facts,” says Andrew Faith, a partner at Polley Faith in Vancouver. “You can’t expect that your client is going to give you everything that you need to give a good opinion as to whether to proceed and how to proceed on a case.”

Clients don’t come in and say “I have a tort problem,” or “I have a contract problem,” says Miranda Lam, a partner at McCarthy TĂ©trault in Vancouver. They tell you what’s bothering them and it’s up to you to figure out what the issue is and to solve it. But getting a full idea of the issue can be difficult because the client’s own perspective can get in the way.

“Relevance is a relative thing for clients,” says Lam. “What’s relevant to them might not necessarily be relevant at law and there are also many, many facts that are relevant that they do not recognize as something they should tell us, either because it is not helpful to their position or because it is embarrassing or because they frankly just can’t remember.”

To help lawyers learn to ask the right questions, Faith and Lam are teaming up to present a Skilled Lawyer Series webinar on Feb. 23 titled Understanding Your Case: Asking the Right Questions.

Their top three tips to remember for asking clients the right questions are:

  1. Trust documents first and recollections second. Talk to your client to get an overview of the case, says Faith, then go over the documents, and then talk to your client again. “Usually, I find, the documents change the story, because nobody has a perfect recollection or an objective recollection of the facts of the dispute.”
  2. Don’t be afraid to cross-examine your own client. “Arm yourself with objective facts, like the documents, you present to the client what you think might be the other side or queries that the judge or the decision-maker might have,” says Miranda. Andrew adds that a good litigator will also become familiar with the other side’s case. “If you don’t know the case against you, you can’t ask all the right questions. So it’s really digging deep, being your own devil’s advocate. You should be acting like the adversary with the client so that you know what the responses will be so that you’ve covered every base.”
  3. Trust your instincts. If it feels like you’re missing something, you probably are.
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